02 Jun Reaching Across the Great Divide
A friend of mine recently told me about how, while swiping away on Tinder, he observed a strange trend on women’s profiles: time after time he came across bios that said some variation of, “Swipe left if you voted for Trump” (swiping left means that you do not want to match with that person). I asked him what he thought about the trend, and without hesitation he said, “I swiped left on everyone of those women and I don’t really care about politics. I didn’t even vote in this election because I hated both options.” I understood his point; these women, and I’m sure men, feel so strongly about this president and presidency that they are willing to weed out potential mates who may or may not have voted for a particular candidate.
This is just one small example of how much our current politics have affected our daily lives. Since his election, Donald Trump and his presidency seem to be inescapable topics of conversation with friends, family, coworkers, on Facebook, and even with random people in the grocery store. Not only is it inescapable, it has been incredibly polarizing and caused rifts in relationships. I have heard people say over and over again, “I had to stop following that person on Facebook because he/she posted way too many political things” (not necessarily a bad thing) or “Oh, I don’t talk to that family member anymore because he voted for Trump.” I get it, it is not comfortable to fervently disagree with someone you know and love. But this is a disheartening reality that we have to face and challenge if we ever want to heal the great divide that has become so apparent since last November.
It is this divide that concerns me more particularly than who is leading our country. I’m afraid that we are losing the ability to have intelligent conversations with others about things that are difficult and emotionally charged. Instead, we have traded in discourse and perspective taking for ardent emotional attachment to our version of reality only. When this reality is threatened, we fight back and alienate others who, in turn, feel that their own reality is threatened, creating a destructive cycle. There is no opportunity to hear or understand another person if we are lost in defending our personal reality. We must work hard to become an emotionally responsive person in political discussions (and in general), especially when our blood is boiling and we want to defend what feels to be the only reality that exists.
We start to do this by taking a deep breath and calming our emotional response down. If we are flooded with emotions, we will only hear and understand about 2-3 words the other person is saying. So breathe. Then remind yourself that feelings aren’t fact. Forgetting this principle will throw fuel onto the proverbial political fire, especially when the other person comes from a different framework or reality. Sometimes we cannot help having heated discussions, but if we respond from an emotional state in an attacking way, we will lose any buy-in the other person has. As a general rule, we are having two conversations every time we communicate: one about the content (ie: politics) and one about the relationship between the two parties. The second conversation is usually more subconscious and always more risky. Our goal should be to minimize the risk by trying to understand where the other person is coming from.
One way to do this, especially in political conversations, is to ask questions. It’s natural to want to shut the conversation down and walk away because you don’t agree with the other person, or you’re just sick and tired of talking about politics all the time. Don’t. Challenge yourself to engage with the person. Ask good questions. If you do, you will most likely discover that his/her reality is not much different than yours. He/she probably wants the same things out of life that you do, but believes they are achieved in different ways. This is ok. You can agree to disagree on these points and still love each other. When we speak out of our feelings and emotions, we push others away. When we are curious about the other, we build open lines of communication that lead to deeper relationships. By being curious and responsive to others we can start to understand one another and bridge some of the seemingly impossible divides that exist in our world today.
Sue Shrinkle, MS LMFT, is a Marriage and Family Therapist. She is currently in private practice at Coastal Counseling and also works as a behavioral consultant. If you would like to make an appointment with Sue, please call 1-888-470-4415.
This article and the information herein are for educational and informational purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional psychological or therapeutic services. The self-help information provided by this blog are solely the opinion of the bloggers and should not be considered as a form of therapy, advice, direction, diagnosis, or treatment of any kind. Instead, the information is designed to be used in conjunction with ongoing treatment provided by a mental health professional. Use the information in this blog at your own risk. All of the information is provided “as-is,” with no warranties of any kind, express or implied.